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Losing Tonsils to Gain a Good Night’s Sleep

Parents’ misunderstandings about tonsillectomies could cost their children a good night’s sleep – and more.


A recent Harris Interactive survey of 584 American parents found that most believe doctors rarely remove tonsils, and that when they do the main reasons are sore throats and tonsillitis.

In fact, tonsillectomies, the second most common childhood surgery according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, are usually performed to correct sleep-disordered breathing. This condition can lead to fatigue, poor athletic and academic performance, and attention and behavior problems, says Nina Lisbeth Shapiro, M.D., an associate professor of otolaryngology at UCLA School of Medicine.

And tonsillectomies are no longer the ordeal many parents remember. Shapiro says that new surgical techniques allow 95 percent of tonsillectomies to be done on an outpatient basis. One technique, called low-temperature Coblation, combines radiofrequency energy with a cooling saline solution to remove tonsils without damaging surrounding tissue. The procedure takes about half the time of other tonsillectomy methods, Shapiro notes, and it results in little or no blood loss and faster recovery time.

It is likely that 3 percent to 10 percent of children have sleep-disordered breathing, Shapiro adds.
“It’s certainly more common than is recognized. A lot of parents think it’s normal if they can hear their child snoring in the next room.”

Even if older tonsillectomy procedures are used to correct the problem, Shapiro concludes, the operation is a minor procedure with tremendous benefits for children missing out on the sleep they need.

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